My $65K in debt actually helped me live better — and I paid it off in 5 years
City/state: Houston, TX
Amount of debt: $65,000
Type of debt: Student loan
How long it took to pay off: Five years (ten was the planned payback period)
Jobs held while paying the debt: Internal audit staff, demand planner, financial analyst
I took out $65,000 in student loans in order to pay for my MBA. It was a full time program with weekend classes so I was able to keep my job while completing the coursework. For me, the decision to take on the debt wasn’t a difficult one. I had, and still have, high aspirations for my career and I knew that the MBA would open doors for increased earning potential earlier in my career that I may not have been able to access otherwise.
I did the math on the potential timeline to earnings that would provide a return on the degree and it was less than ten years, which was all I needed to know to move forward and willfully go into debt. The interest rates were somewhat high relative to other types of debt, but I always made the payment on time and interest really wasn’t a challenge for me.
Growing up, my family lived comfortably but there was a relentless focus on ensuring that our financial futures were secure. My dad progressed in sales and marketing roles at a number of large corporations in his 35-year career and he and I often got into arguments about finances when I was in my teens. He is a saver and was relentless in driving that same philosophy into my head. That meant limiting debt, never carrying a credit card balance, and living within your means. These were all values that he focused my brother and I on for as long as I can remember.
For the most part, paying off the debt was pretty straight-forward. It was about $600/month as a fixed payment on a planned ten-year payback period. It was never a negotiable bill that I wouldn’t pay back. Fortunately, I had kept working while earning the degree so my salary continued to increase, which made fitting the payment into our monthly budget even easier over time.
I was committed to paying back the debt before [my partner and I] had kids and we wanted them fairly soon after MBA. So it was important to give up spending my bonus on luxuries and instead, carve chunks out of my debt each year. That allowed me to basically double the minimum payment amounts each year. For me, it was just the discipline of seeing what the future could hold and how getting out of the debt as fast as possible would help make life a little more enjoyable when the daycare bills started coming in.
I’m happy to have taken the debt out, earned the degree, and have it paid off. The MBA and my investment in it has already returned a couple times over by now. It accelerated my career and my total lifetime potential earnings in a way that I can’t imagine without it.
The debt also gave me an enhanced perspective on sacrifice when it comes to protecting myself and my family, financially. It was beneficial too as when we looked at a mortgage, we could get pre-approved for an absurd amount but chose to live well within our means on the house we ended up purchasing.
Some of this might be easier said than done but I would just say that if you want to get out of debt, you have to have a relentless focus on sacrificing as much as you can outside of basic living needs to send money to the debt. Start with the highest interest debt first, consider a consolidation service (be careful of the loan terms) and commit yourself to getting out of debt, knowing that once it’s gone, everything gets a little more comfortable.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.